Tai-Chang Chiang

Research Professor


Tai-Chang Chiang

Primary Research Area

  • Condensed Matter Physics
170 Materials Research Lab


After receiving a B.S. in physics from the National Taiwan University in 1971, Professor Chiang received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1978. He joined the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois in 1980 after working as a postdoctoral fellow at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY.

Professor Chiang has done seminal research on the electronic properties, lattice structure, and dynamic behavior of surfaces, interfaces, and ultrathin films. He employs molecular beam epitaxy techniques to create thin films and composite systems made of metals, semiconductors, topological insulators, superconductors, and charge-density-wave compounds, where functionality and novel properties may emerge from quantum confinement and coherent coupling among the components of the composite.

While his work focuses on basic scientific principles, many of the systems under investigation have strong potential for applications. He is credited for being the first one to create atomically uniform films of thicknesses ranging from a single layer to well over a hundred layers. Such films function as miniature electron interferometers in which electrons bounce back and forth between the two boundaries to form standing waves, also known as quantum well states. These effects allow precise measurements of the electronic wavelength and the kinetics of electron motion. Professor Chiang is an outstanding theorist who is able to develop theoretical models for his experimental results.

Early in his career, Professor Chiang did pioneering work on the application of angle-resolved and core-level photoemission to surface, thin film, and superlattice research. He was one of the first to demonstrate that atoms of single-crystal surfaces have core level binding energies different from the bulk atoms; this work led to the development of quantitative methods for surface structure analysis. He developed systematic methods for three-dimensional band structure mapping, clarified the photoemission processes in terms of bulk and surface effects, and was the first to report surface change density oscillations near defects using scanning tunneling microscopy. His research on x-ray thermal diffuse scattering for phonon mapping is now a topic in textbooks.

Prof. Chiang has conducted his research using synchrotron radiation facilities including the Synchrotron Radiation Center in Stoughton, Wisconsin, the Advanced Light Source in Berkeley, California, the Advanced Photon Source at the Argonne National Laboratory, and several international facilities. He also conducts research at the free electron laser facility LCLS in Stanford, California.

Research Statement

Electronic, Spin, and Lattice Structures and Dynamics of Nanoscale Systems
Professor Chiang's current research focuses on the physics of surfaces, interfaces, and tailored thin film structures that are promising for a wide range of scientific and technological advances in the quantum and nanoscale regimes. Measurements, modeling, and computation are performed to determine and to understand the electronic, spintronic, and atomistic behavior of selected surface-based nanoscale systems prepared by deposition, self-assembly, and artificial layering.

Electrons confined in such systems form discrete states, or quantum well states, that are sensitive to the physical dimensions, boundary conditions, and spin-orbit coupling at the interface. As a result, the electronic wave functions, total energy, charge distribution, spin texture, and density of states can exhibit substantial quantum variations as a function of system size and environment. The system's lattice responds to these changes via an electron-lattice coupling, possibly resulting in distortions and new structural phases having different symmetry types.

These effects can be pronounced at the nanoscale because of quantum coherence, interference, entanglement, and the relative ease of atomic movement at surfaces. The resulting collective behavior involving coupled electronic, spin, and lattice degrees of freedom can deviate substantially from the bulk limit, thus giving rise to ample opportunities for creating useful and emergent properties.

Professor Chiang's research is directed mainly at four areas:

  1. surfaces, interfaces, and ultrathin films of nontrivial materials including topological insulators, charge density wave compounds, and other functional materials, with an emphasis upon the interplay of quantum confinement, reduced dimensions, spin texture, topological order, etc. as the film's thickness is increased from a single layer, to a double layer,...and to the thick film limit.
  2. studies of dichroic and spin polarization effects associated with angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy using linearly and circularly polarized light, which will shed light on the spin degrees of freedom that have received increasing attention because of the strong potential for spintronic applications.
  3. artificially stacked materials involving different quantum phases where the interaction between topological order, superconducting pair formation, charge order, etc. in tailored structures can lead to novel behavior relevant to a fundamental understanding of complexity and emergent phenomena.
  4. the physics of excitation, relaxation, and driven behavior at time scales down to the femtosecond regime, which represents an exciting frontier for condensed-matter research.

Research Honors

  • Arthur H. Compton Award, Advanced Photon Source, Argonne National Laboratory (2019)
  • Academician, Academia Sinica, Taiwan, elected 2016 (2016)
  • Davisson-Germer Prize, American Physical Society, 2015 (2015)
  • Outstanding Referee, inaugural group, American Physical Society, 2008 (2008)
  • Fellow, American Physical Society, 1986-present
  • Xerox Award for Faculty Research, 1985
  • NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award, 1984-89
  • IBM Faculty Development Award, 1984-85

Selected Articles in Journals

Related news

  • Research

New findings from physicists at the University of Illinois, in collaboration with researchers at The University of Tokyo and others, clarify the physics of coupling topological materials with simple, conventional superconductors.

Through a novel method they devised to fabricate bulk insulating topological insulator (TI) films on superconductor (SC) substrates, the researchers were able to more precisely test the proximity effect, or coupling when two materials contact one another, between TIs and SCs. They found that when the TI film is bulk insulating, no superconductivity is observed at the top surface, but if it is a metal, as in prior work, strong, long-range superconducting order is seen. The experimental efforts were led by physics Professor Tai-Chang Chiang and Joseph Andrew Hlevyack, postdoctoral researcher in Professor Chiang’s group, in collaboration with Professor James N. Eckstein’s group including Yang Bai, Professor Kozo Okazaki’s Lab at The U. of Tokyo, and five other institutes internationally. The findings are published in Physical Review Letters, which has been highlighted as a PRL Editors’ Suggestion.

  • Accolades
  • Condensed Matter Physics

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Emeritus and Research Professor of Physics Tai-Chang Chiang has been selected for the 2019 Arthur H. Compton Award of the Advanced Photon Source Users Organization (APSUO). The award recognizes a significant scientific or technical accomplishment at the Advanced Photon Source (APS), a national synchrotron-radiation light source research facility housed at Argonne National Laboratory and funded by the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The award will be presented to Chiang at the APS/CNM User Meeting in early May.

  • Research
  • Condensed Matter Physics

Now, a novel sample-growing technique developed at the U. of I. has overcome these obstacles. Developed by physics professor James Eckstein in collaboration with physics professor Tai-Chang Chiang, the new “flip-chip” TI/SC sample-growing technique allowed the scientists to produce layered thin-films of the well-studied TI bismuth selenide on top of the prototypical SC niobium—despite their incompatible crystalline lattice structures and the highly reactive nature of niobium.

These two materials taken together are ideal for probing fundamental aspects of the TI/SC physics, according to Chiang: “This is arguably the simplest example of a TI/SC in terms of the electronic and chemical structures. And the SC we used has the highest transition temperature among all elements in the periodic table, which makes the physics more accessible. This is really ideal; it provides a simpler, more accessible basis for exploring the basics of topological superconductivity,” Chiang comments.

  • Research
  • Condensed Matter Physics

In a surprising new discovery, alpha-tin, commonly called gray tin, exhibits a novel electronic phase when its crystal structure is strained, putting it in a rare new class of 3D materials called topological Dirac semimetals (TDSs). Only two other TDS materials are known to exist, discovered as recently as 2013. Alpha-tin now joins this class as its only simple-element member.

This discovery holds promise for novel physics and many potential applications in technology. The findings are the work of Caizhi Xu, a physics graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, working under U. of I. Professor Tai-Chang Chiang and in collaboration with scientists at the Advanced Light Source at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and six other institutions internationally.